As bronze sculptures and public murals earn funding from city hall, one lifetime Lewisville resident and artist helped put up a mural somewhere else — New Orleans.
Outside of a brief stay in Cleveland, Ohio, Nathan Davis has spent all his life in Lewisville. He said he’s been doing some form of art for as long as he can remember. He said he was inspired as a child by the movie Breakin’, and has been scribbling on anything he could get his hands on ever since.
Davis said he met and befriended Nelson Ligon a few years ago. Ligon organizes twice-yearly mission trips to New Orleans, and brought Davis along. His first one was this past Mardi Gras, and his second was over the summer.
“After Katrina, you know, you think, oh, there’s a natural disaster, you just go back and rebuild right away and go back to normal life. It’s been over 10 years, and there’s still a large part of it that hasn’t been repaired,” Davis said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done in that city.”
After working for several years in LISD, Davis left his job in the learning materials warehouse to pursue art full-time. He still needs to subsidize his income with a day job, but says he tries to always keep himself busy with art jobs. He’s been featured in Colorpalooza for years, participates in boozy art events whenever he can and helped work on murals around Shepherd’s House in Old Town.
The mural for the mission project is of a blue robot, reminiscent of the early ‘00s animated character “Invader Zim,” offering up a heart with white tendrils of energy exploding outward onto a black background. Job 5:16 is cited in large font in the upper left of the image.
Davis said he was taken aback by how grateful the community was for everything they provided on mission, including the mural. He said one resident even paid him for paints.
“I feel like the people in that community, they’re used to being written off. They’re used to nobody wanting to invest in that area or come down there and put the effort,” he said. “Even if it’s just handing out hot dogs, that, to them, is a pretty big deal.”
Ligon said he’s been organizing mission trips during Mardi Gras for 30 years, but after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, he began organizing summer outreach programs based around Abiding Temple Ministries in the 9th Ward, which was devastated by the hurricane. The outreach programs consist of feeding the homeless and spreading the gospel.
Ligon said the neighborhood has come to look forward to the mission’s arrival every year. He said governmental assistance was lacking in the aftermath of the hurricane — the city would be rocked by scandal from 2010 to 2013, when it came to light that Ray Nagin, who served as mayor during the disaster, had been taking bribes from city contractors both before and after the hurricane. He was convicted on 20 financial charges in 2014 and is serving a 10 year prison sentence.
Ligon said church outreach helped fill the void.
“The mayor of New Orleans siphoned money out of federal funds, and he’s in jail over that,” Ligon said. “We saw a lot of people never get the help from the government that they promised, but churches helped, and non-profit ministries helped.”
Davis said he and the rest of the mission group spent the weeks handing out food and water in the neighborhood surrounding Abiding Temple.
Thirteen years almost to the day after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans community is in a unique place. At least 400,000 residents were displaced by the storm, many of whom never came back. The displaced New Orleanians scattered across the country — quite literally. FEMA has received assistance applications from every state. The 2010 census found that the city had shrunk by almost 30 percent since 2000.
Davis said many of the now-abandoned houses are what they left behind.
“When Katrina wiped them out, they left and just never came back,” he said. “So the banks had to wait and things had to be done and other people purchased the property and had to rebuild.”
The problem is most acute, both in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane and in the slow recovery effort, in the Lower Ninth Ward, where Davis and Ligon were on mission. An impoverished, minority dominated neighborhood before the storm, it is also just to the west of some of the broken levees, making it one of the hardest hit neighborhoods. Homes were washed completely off their foundations when the levee gave.
“One of the really, really shocking things to me in just the areas we went to was just how close these houses actually were to the levees,” Davis said. “From the back door of the house, it wasn’t even 20 feet to the levee that broke and got flooded. It was literally seconds before these houses got washed away. It wasn’t like a Hollywood movie where you slowly see the water coming down from a distance, it was like instantaneous.”
The most striking thing to Davis about the city is how connected residents were to each other across neighborhood and class boundaries. Where they lived within the city didn’t matter — they were all New Orleanians.
“It looks like this bad community and it could be dangerous and you’d have to lock your doors, and I’m out there painting, and all of a sudden these two middle class people just come cruising by on bicycles just as happy as can be, and they’re saying hi to the neighbors,” he said. “It was almost bizarre that there wasn’t a disconnect there like you would think there would be
It wasn’t like this was lower class and this is middle class, it was just like, this is New Orleans. It’s all just part of it together.”